New mainstream perfumes arrive very regularly now. Where in the past we had to wait for ages to find a new scent to admire, now they come along like buses on Oxford Street. Therefore it is fair to say they are often not great.
We do, however, get a few really quite fabulous ones that come along each year–usually courtesy of the niche brands–but very rarely can we say we have a spate of rather magnificent scents come along that set within the idea of green, fresh, woody, yet very new in their approach. The following three have all come out recently; they all are an utter joy and celebrate woods, forests, rivers and gardens from across the globe.
Let’s start with 17 Nandan Road by Ulrich Lang.
Lang, as we have said before at .Cent, is one of those perfumers that must be watched, with eagle eyes if necessary, because Lang starts a trend–not that he is looking to do so, but that is the type of perfumer he is. He’s a forward-thinker and explorer, someone who goes with what he loves and with what excites him, nothing more, nothing less. This, of course, makes for a line of fragrances that totally tie together; the line is tight, giving fresh facets with each perfume, with accents to clearly define each scent. But like brothers and sisters, they have a shared DNA.
As a perfumer, he has a love of green, fresh and woody notes, so when he does a floral, we must absolutely sit up and take notice. Welcome to 17 Nandan Road, the newest perfume in the line. It is named after the street address for Shanghai’s Guangqi Garden where osmanthus flowers can be found in full bloom. A small, orange group of tiny flowers grows from the tree and blooms at an unusual time of the year, October. So the perfume is a celebration of this delicate flower, but maybe not as you may know it.
So what does osmanthus smell of? It’s quite a difficult one to pin down. Most start by saying it is fruity like peach or even plums and prunes, yet it also has a suede accent to it. Here in this fragrance, it is used in two distinct ways: osmanthus as its natural flower and as an infusion, which allows for the fragrance to have a softly layered effect to this ingredient.
But, and it’s an important but, this is no floral scent, as such because it is and it isn’t…well not as we know floral scents. This is Ulrich Lang playing with flowers like only he does.
Spray it on, and initially, you get the top of fizzy lemon, crisp, green leaves and biting bergamot. The top is alive, bright and zigging. Sitting in the middle are the two osmanthus versions along with iris, which, as we know, is slightly powdery, but we could go so far as to say slightly earthy after the rain–a sexy facet for sure.
This mingles perfectly with the base which, like every good perfume, holds the perfume but reflects back what the perfume is really about. So here in the base we see suede that echos the osmanthus, along with the musk that sits well with the iris, whilst the Cedarwood (a perennial favourite of Lang’s) grounds its light, white wood scent with magical ambrox, which together round off this fragrance.
It is, without doubt, a floral, fruity fragrance but NOT in the least sweet, and that is what is just so clever. Ulrich Lang, it has his signature all over it–that breezy, green, woody freshness that allows one to wear a fruity, floral fragrance without feeling like it is catching the back of the throat, as bad floral, fruity concoctions can…
It is quite a standout bottle of fragrance that keeps you guessing slightly: if you were to pass someone wearing it, you would definitely want to know which perfume they were wearing. Ulrich himself has described this perfume as addictive–and his feeling on this is quite reliable–but as much as it is addictive it is intriguing which, after all, is what you want from a scent. The silage trails so that those you pass are pulled into your spell.
As with every scent he creates, he chooses an artist to work on interpreting the scent into an image. For 17 Nandan Road, he chose Chinese author and poet Song Yuan to create the visual interpretation. Yuan photographed a dizzying visual of flowering Osmanthus blooms. The outside packaging mirrors the colour of the Osmanthus flower, making it vivid and contemporary.
So what comes next in my trio of deliciousness?
Much use of amber in the past has been about pairing it with vanilla and fruits and coming up with sweet, rich, heady fragrances, almost too intoxicating. These two fragrances are the antithesis of this. Far more mythical in the approach, these are far more reminiscent of the amber resin that oozes from the tree resin and turns into glorious precious stone.
This particular fragrance feels like a celebration of those trees–their age, their majesty, their life span and their mystic, aged quality. But specifically for the brand, this is hinoki wood, a wonderful Japanese wood used in Japan traditionally for everything from incense sticks to temples and palaces. The hinoki are grown in the area of Kiso (also the name of a river) and are seen as “divine trees.”
Along with the celebration of the wood comes the river and the idea of a samurai solider walking in the wood of hinoki trees as it runs by the river. So green and earthy, rooty notes meet dark wood meets the leather and metallic notes of the solider. The brand even goes so far as to describe it as a “mythical material concept of amber.”
This is another BIG perfume from the husband and wife team that make up D.S. & Durga. Kiso opens with green Japanese cedar wood alongside another Japanese wood–the Sawara cypress–alongside incense. This means the start is automatically woody, but it’s a ziggy wood with a smoky trail. In the middle, there is that amber (although amber itself doesn’t have a smell, so it’s just an “imagined smell”), so it’s yet another wood this time: Asashi Zuru maple alongside that “dirty” patchouli and damp iris, with a hint of sweetness from vanilla. The vanilla is not mentioned in the notes, yet it is the vanilla that gives this a lightness and hint of warmth balance to it. As a wood-base fragrance, it is warm with dappled sunlight, not cool and dark as may be expected. Its base is made up of that magnificent hinoki wood with leather and tree moss, which gives the whole perfume a mystic, heroic and historic frame–yet this is the most modern of fragrances.
Both Amber Kiso and Amber Teutonic are not perfumes for “lazy” perfume wearers; these divine fragrances are too good for that. Exploring new ideas of amber, they take you on two different yet parallel journeys that are fresh, mystical, historic and utterly new. They wrap you in a warm blanket, rich yet light smoky yet green, and both are quite, quite brilliant.
Lastly on our nature journey, crossing the other side of the world to the beautiful countryside of the river Avon, down as it makes its way to the Cotswolds, we meet River Dawn from Floris. Introduced as a limited edition to the annual “By Request” service is the eau de parfum that celebrates the river as it meanders through tributaries and finally makes its way to the sea.
So how was this captured? What notes does this involve? The top notes are made of aldehyde, galbanum and apple blossom. The feel is like the early spring mists that rise, all sparkling and lightly crisp fruits of a morning stroll, as the sun rises against the wet banks, the slow, gentle gurgle of the river, the fresh morning sun meeting the damp grasses where the air is fresh with the promise of spring.
It’s the heart that brings the walk by the river to life with orris, snowdrops, galbanum and hyacinth. The bright, fresh, spring green flowers are offset by earthy orris and musky green galbanum that hint at fresh, damp ground.
The base, as ever, grounds the fragrance with sandalwood and that light touch of “white” warm, comforting musk, alongside an unexpected hint of herby anise, which is used in fishing lures to attract fish. The base ramps up the power of the scent and gives it a sort of gush at the end, like the sense of where the river finally makes its connection with the sea, and the journey is complete.
If you love the English countryside, if you know the smell of a river amongst grasses in spring, you will love this fragrance, and if you have never had the luck to enjoy this most British of experiences, one sniff of this perfume will take you straight there.